People Staff
April 24, 2000 12:00 PM

While M*A*S*H established Alan Alda as Hollywood’s Mr. Nice Guy, costar Larry Linville came to be recognized worldwide as a sniveling, snitching loser. Linville, of course, was duly grateful. Had he not been cast as Maj. Frank Burns in the milestone CBS sitcom (1972-83), “I wouldn’t have been a star,” the actor once said. “Where the hell would I be?”

Actually, the sky might once have been the limit for the 60-year-old actor, who had lung cancer and died of pneumonia on April 10 in Manhattan. Raised in Sacramento, Calif., he studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado in the late ’50s, then switched to London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and never stopped learning. “He knew the intricacies of the Pyramids,” says friend Gary Burghoff, who played M*A*S*H’s Radar O’Reilly, “and how to build an airplane. If ever there was a Renaissance man, it was Larry.”

And if ever there was a weasel, it was Frank Burns. Inspired, Linville said, by “every idiot I’ve ever known,” Frank became the bane of the 4077th Army surgical unit. Linville left the show in 1977 after five seasons, saying he was “sated” with the character nicknamed Ferret Face. A few failed sitcoms later, he described the decision, without regret, as “my own choice to be stupid and…jump off cliffs.”

Married five times, he produced a daughter, Kelly, now 30 and a photo technician in L.A. (His widow, Deborah Guyden, works for a Manhattan bank.) After M*A*S*H, he plunged into regional theater. Despite having lost one lung to cancer—a disease he handled “courageously,” says his daughter—Linville tap-danced last year in his musical-comedy debut in Millburn, N.J. “I wish his life had been less colorful, with a few less cigarettes and alcohol,” says series creator Larry Gelbart. “He lived large, but I wish he’d lived long, too.”

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